David Prosser: Now it's time to stamp out corruption and bribery for good


Outlook No doubt groups such as the Campaign Against Arms Trade and The Corner House will be disappointed byyesterday's sentencing of BAE for offences connected to its sale of a radar system to Tanzania more than 10 years ago. They had called on Mr Justice Bean to reject the plea bargain BAE had agreed with the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) on the affair, which specifically clears the defence company of allegations of corruption. That he did not do so, instead fining BAE £500,000 for accounting failures, will have upset anti-corruption campaigners.

The difficulty, however, is that while even the judge raisedconcerns about the fishy payments BAE accepts it made to a middleman in the Tanzania deal, there was no evidence with which to build a case against the company for more serious offences. The question for the SFO, then, was whether to risk looking supine by charging BAE with what was a minor offence in the context of what appears to everyone else to have been a much bigger stink.

In many ways, it is to the SFO's credit that it accepted the risk of losing face. Campaigners against corruption may not like the plea-bargain system, but in this case it has at least enabled prosecutors to secure a conviction against BAE – as well as £30m of compensation for the people of Tanzania, who were the ultimate victims of this sorry affair.

Why couldn't the SFO build a more serious case? The answer lies in the corruption laws in place at the time of the Tanzania deal. To accuse BAE of corruption, the SFO would have to have been able to show that someone very senior at the company – probably at board level – had been closely involved with the affair. It had no evidence to prove that this was indeed the case.

Speaking more generally, that burden of proof would be exceptionally tough to achieve in almost any case. Companies whose staff have been caught out paying bribes have always been able to paint such individuals as rogue operators, while maintaining their own innocence.

Fortunately, the law has now changed. From April, accusations of corporate corruption will have to clear a significantly lowerhurdle. Where an employee or agent of a company is shown to have paid a bribe, the company will be guilty too, unless it can show it had proper procedures in place to prevent such corruption, which the individual in question had to take extraordinary measures to circumvent.

It is a welcome reform, but until the law takes effect, critics of the SFO ought to hold their fire. For now, the agency is doing its best to prosecute corruption cases, but has one hand tied behind its back. The proof of its ability to fight corruption will be how many successful cases it manages to bring once it has the new law in its armoury.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The two faces revealed by the ultraviolet light
newsScholars left shaken after shining ultraviolet light on 500-year-old Welsh manuscript
News
Rosamund Pike played Bond girld Miranda Frost, who died in Die Another Day (PA)
news
Arts and Entertainment
books
News
newsHow do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? With people like this
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - B2B, Corporate - City, London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat